In the following video, I explain what macular degeneration is and detail the differences between the two types. If you can’t see this video for any reason or would prefer to view the text instead, this is provided below.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration, or age-related macular degeneration, is a common condition affecting people over the age of 50. The older you get, the more likely it is to happen. It is a degeneration that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina and the part of the eye that we use to recognise people, read, watch TV, and do everything else that involves using our eyes.
How Does It Develop?
The condition starts off in one way with a few little spots developing at the back of the eye that we can see when we look in. These are called drusen, and they are small collections of waste material that haven’t been removed from the eye due to the layers and cells behind the macula not working as well as they used to.
When these little deposits collect, what can happen is that the eye can go in one of two different directions in terms of the way the macular degeneration develops. In the more common type, dry macular degeneration, which affects about 90% of people with macular degeneration, you get atrophy, or the withering away of the layers behind the macula. This then means that the parts of the macula that require support no longer have it, so you lose little patches of retina or central macula. As a result, if you’re lucky and they happen away from the centre of your vision, then you might not necessarily notice it. But if it starts in the centre, then that can be a serious problem that can affect your vision quite early. Unfortunately, these little patches can grow very slowly and often continue to grow until they affect your central vision.
Wet Macular Degeneration
The second type of macular degeneration, and the less common one that affects only 10% of people with advanced macular degeneration, is called wet macular degeneration. What happens here is you get abnormal blood vessels growing from behind the macula which grow into or under the macula itself. Because they’re abnormal, they behave quite differently; they are very fragile and they either leak clear fluids or sometimes just bleed. When this happens, it happens much more quickly than it does with dry macular degeneration, and it also means that people notice distortion or loss of vision quite rapidly, such as over a few days or weeks.
The important thing is that we now have excellent wet macular degeneration tests and treatments available, allowing us to prevent further worsening and even make people’s vision better. Unfortunately, dry macular degeneration currently has no treatment. The important thing to know though is that there are things you can do to prevent things from worsening, including through diet, through regular macular degeneration tests with an Amsler chart, and also through treating or picking up disease early. The earlier you’re seen and the earlier you’re treated – particularly for wet macular degeneration – the better your outcome in the long run will be.